Traffic and the Lack Thereof

28 Apr

Buffalo is the best city for commuters because we have a highway infrastructure designed in the 50s (and looking every day of it) for a population of 500,000+ people, which everyone assumed would just continue to grow.

(If I might just interject a suggestion or two here: 1. If you’re on the I-90 Eastbound by the airport, the I-290 interchange is counterintuitive. Reconfigure the exit so that the left lanes continue straight onto the 290, and the right lanes turn east towards Albany;and 2. Ramps onto and off of our expressways are banked backwards, increasing the risk of truck rollovers. Bank them correctly.)

The reason I bring this up is this thread at Buffalo Rising, which quickly devolved into silliness. But this post from “Prodigal Son” deserves to be highlighted, because I agree with every word:

I have no patience for either end of the urban vs. suburban debate. Einstein put it perfectly – there is more to either side than Transit Road and Fillmore Avenue.

Arbitrary “distinctions” between neighborhoods divide and hold back WNY as much as high taxes. There is no high moral ground to claim for living in the city, or living in a suburb. You live downtown, ride a bike to work, and eat lunch on Elmwood every day? Great for you – I hope you enjoy the lifestyle you’ve picked. The carbon footprint you save on your bike is dwarfed by your huge heating bill each winter as the energy leaks out of your architecturally correct but wasteful 100 year old windows. You live in Williamsville, drive to work downtown, and get take out from Tim Horton’s? Sounds good too. I hope you appreciate the same commute in Vegas would take 90 minutes and cost $15 a trip in your SUV. Nobody’s perfect – I’m a little sick of the vicious judgement on both sides.

You can’t make a suburb without an urb. Surrounding suburbs of Buffalo need a vital core at its center to thrive. The city is not saturated with uzi wielding hooligans (thanks Irv). At the same time, no successful growing city in America is a dense downtown core with no residential suburb surrounding it. Some people want space, and pay for it. That doesn’t make them bad people or a threat to your bohemian downtown existence.

Give it a rest. Both sides need each other. Let’s take all the the energy wasted in downtown vs suburb battles and invest in some businesses, create a few jobs, and start growing again.

Amen.

In the original post, Newell writes this:

If you want to check out some bad traffic, just head over the boarder to Toronto. I don’t know how the daily commuter can handle that mess. If you hit that traffic look out. You can get stuck for hours dealing with total gridlock.

So, Buffalo. A question.

Would you trade an easy-peasy commute for the growth and urban/suburban vitality of a Toronto? A Toronto which, incidentally, also enjoys a TTC subway/bus/trolley network (when not on strike) and Go trains and buses for commuters from Hamilton, Oshawa, or Barrie and all points in-between?

29 Responses to “Traffic and the Lack Thereof”

  1. Andrew Kulyk April 28, 2008 at 9:02 am #

    A thread on Buffalo Rising devolved into silliness?

    No way!

    Say it ain’t so!

  2. indabuff April 28, 2008 at 9:17 am #

    Every year (and we do hear about this yearly) when this report/survey/study comes out, a lot of people write or report about it…yawn…

    – – –

    The city/suburb debate got old about 20 years ago…yawn

    – – –

    The problem in this town is that we keep rehashing the same old debates over and over and over and over and over and over…debates which rarely end in any action…

  3. Derek J. Punaro April 28, 2008 at 10:00 am #

    The ease of the commute, to me, is part of what makes Buffalo great. I think Buffalo should not be striving to become a big city. It should strive to be a great small city, with a strong downtown, waterfront, history, architecture, arts & entertainment, small effective government, and comfortable living options, whether urban, suburban, or rural.

  4. Haterade April 28, 2008 at 10:10 am #

    “just head over the boarder to Toronto” ….. All that $$$ on a Nichols education ….

  5. Chris Smith April 28, 2008 at 11:23 am #

    Macro level trends do indicate that suburban and exurban living is unsustainable in the mid/long term, which positions places like Buffalo favorably for a shift back into urban living or for those who choose to stay with the suburban lifestyle in the short term. Will technology and energy evolve to the point to sustain far flung suburban living? I don’t know, but it is a selling point for Buffalo if positioned properly.

  6. Mark April 28, 2008 at 11:44 am #

    i would rather be a rapidly growing, world class city with a shit ton of traffic. check me for toronto.

  7. Prodigal Son April 28, 2008 at 12:38 pm #

    Thanks for the plug, Pundit. Its not the traffic debate that devolves into suburban vs. urban fights. Its EVERY subject in Buffalo, all the more concentrated on BRO. If people didn’t attach moral implications to each side, it might be constructive (or at least easier to swallow).

    Chris Smith is right in the lorg term. The question to me is not big or small. It’s relevancy to get to the long term.

    “Will Buffalo still be relevant 50 years from now, when our water and (comparative) lack of sprawl is even more valuable, to attract quality people for a vibrant town that I’d want to live in.”

    I don’t know the answer to that.

  8. Derek J. Punaro April 28, 2008 at 1:12 pm #

    @Chris – are there really “macro level trends” that indicate non-urban lifestyles are unsustainable? Tightly clustered population centers was the norm in America for what, 200 years? Only since the 1970s has the trend started shifting to more decentralized population. I see the advancement of all technologies leading towards there being less of a need for centralization.

  9. Colin April 28, 2008 at 1:18 pm #

    The problem with these “arbitrary distinctions” is that they have a real impact. People in the suburbs are pretty strict about keeping their schools and property taxes to themselves, protected by those distinctions.

  10. eac April 28, 2008 at 1:20 pm #

    If people didn’t attach moral implications to each side…

    How are there not moral implications to living a lifestyle that is unsustainable? If driving all over the place is contributing to famine in other countries, or in this one, it’s a moral issue. Sure, nobody’s perfect- but some people think buying an alternative fuel vehicle and a dozen lightbulb exchanges will do the trick, instead of actually changing their lifestyle- changing their desires.

    I agree, though, that less rightiousness and defensiveness–on both sides–would make the discussion more palatable and productive.

  11. eliz. April 28, 2008 at 1:21 pm #

    I agree. I hate ALL the suburb/city stereotypes, so why repeat them? A minor point, but I don’t see the benefits of statements like this:

    “The carbon footprint you save on your bike is dwarfed by your huge heating bill each winter as the energy leaks out of your architecturally correct but wasteful 100 year old windows.”

    That’s quite an assumption that doesn’t have a parallel on the suburban side of the comment. We in the city don’t enjoy seeing our paychecks go flying out the window any more than they do elsewhere and most of us are doing something about it. Any house can be energy-efficient, regardless of its age.

  12. Mike from Grand Island April 28, 2008 at 1:29 pm #

    I beleive the 290 / 90 configuration you envision is in the works; I too hate that bridge to swing over wehrle and 90 on ramp. It might get ugly while they’re rebuilding it though…

    We are all in this together: suburb and city. I’m really looking forward to that confidential local gov’t report that ch7 has a picture of on their website. Too much overlapping gov’t. I remember those Hamburg 911 operators saying Hamburg had to have their own 911 system – that is just silly.

    And Chris is right – we can’t afford sprawl. The cost of services is expotentially higher and higher as we move from the center out. Ecologically it’s unwise too. Part of our climate change is due to asphalt covering a large percentage of our landscape. And then there are the diminishing habitats…

  13. Denizen April 28, 2008 at 2:15 pm #

    Throw me down in the “agree with Chris” camp. Living an an automobile-dependent urban area is simply not sustainable in the long run.

    Though, the city vs. suburb / urban vs. suburban dichotomy is largely a Semantic slalom that just confuses a lot of core issues and leads to the use of misleading stereotypes.

    First, wordplay…Derek says:

    are there really “macro level trends” that indicate non-urban lifestyles are unsustainable?

    First we need to clear up the confusion of what is really defined as “urban” or “non-urban”. Arguably an “urban area” is any location that is mostly devoted to human habitat and who’s inhabitants commute to jobs and don’t produce a majority of their own food. Under this definition, a low-density subdivision on Lancaster is just as urban as Allentown. Yes, the physical forms of urban development are very different but residents of each area are living within the modern definition of a “city”. After WW2, Buffalo immensely expanded in physical size, as the population in the core thinned out and dispersed into new development along the periphery. It’s just this new “growth” happened in municipalities beyond the old city boundary.

    It’s seems many here use the term “urban” as a measure of how dense/walkable a neighborhood or municipality is; how traditionally urban the area is. In that sense, let’s take Brookline MA is a good example of how this wordplay can be flipped around. Semantically, Brookline is a suburb of Boston, but using the above definition, it’s far more urban than anywhere within the City of Buffalo, considering factors like built form, density, walkable amenities, and access to public transportation infrastructure.

    I’ll agree that the city vs. suburb sniping can get pretty lame. Besides arbitrary political and school district borders, the differences between “city” and “suburbs” in WNY can become quite a blur.

  14. hank April 28, 2008 at 3:37 pm #

    1.John Burke—How I’ve missed you!
    2.Mike–I’m sorry if Alan and I agree so well on local issues, so if it seems like kissing ass to you when you read this post, perhaps you spend too much time thinking about men’s asses.

    One of the things that I’ve found NOT living in WNY for 32 of the last 33 years, is that expats hang TIGHT outside the area. In the military and out. Now the problem seems to be that the people still living in WNY cant join together to do anything–except perhaps look down their noses at each other. What the fuck good is that?

    What happened to “The City of Good Neighbors? Should that not mean that Riverside/Black Rock, or Seneca/Babcock and old Polonia should be “Good Neighbors” as those who live in Williamsville and Chickentown or OP shouldn’t be good neighbors with North Park or University or Allentown?

    eliz. certainly made a good point. There’s tradeoffs. Choose what you like, and for Christ’s sake respect your fellow WNY’er for the choice THEY made.

    Buffalo IS a very easy city to get to one end or the other. Driving in Vegas or Toronto is NOT my idea of fun. At least in Buffalo it’s rarely bumper to bumper–Unless of course you live on the Island, or are on 290W trying to get to Riverside from Delaware Av and further west during the summer.

  15. Dan April 28, 2008 at 3:41 pm #

    How did it even get to an urban-suburban argument?

    Anyhow. Pundit asked:

    > Would you trade an easy-peasy commute for the growth and urban/suburban vitality of a Toronto?

    Many Buffalonians will argue the merits of living in the region: twenty minute commutes, lack of truly destructive geological and meteorological threats, gut-busting local cuisine, and inexpensive housing. Still, to answer the question posed by Pundit, the answer for most people throughout North America is “yes”; it’s why Buffalo is shrinking and regions like Toronto, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, and Washington continue to grow. If short commutes and cheap housing were really desirable urban amenities, Buffalo would be booming. The Census tally for the region over the past 50 years prove otherwise.

    Buffalo’s low commute times and high road level of service aren’t the result of visionary planing in the 1950s. They’re just an indicator of economic malaise. The “twenty minute city YAY!” line is just another mantra of blind boosterism, and another excuse to turn a blind eye to the very real problems faced by the region. “Why should I care how downtown fares, as long as I can get to work in 20 minutes.”

  16. Dan April 28, 2008 at 3:54 pm #

    > Will Buffalo still be relevant 50 years from now, when our water and (comparative) lack of sprawl is even more valuable, to attract quality people for a vibrant town that I’d want to live in.

    I think it’s already losing relevance. Consider all the various “largest 50 American cities ranked for [whatever]” surveys that are all the vogue: Buffalo is increasingly not included among them. When I was a child in the 1979s, if you looked on the weather page of an out-of-town newspaper, Buffalo was always shown on the map along with the other “big boy” cities like New York and Chicago. Today, in print and broadcast media, it isn’t. Buffalo is bypassed by many national retail and restaurant chains when they are expanding their presence across the country.

    I hate to say this, but I think in 50 years, Buffalo’s position in the collective consciousness of the nation will be about the same as that of Scranton, Peoria or Topeka. Right now, Buffalo’s stature is hanging on by the laurels of its former status as one of the nations’ largest cities, its silly name, and maybe professional sports. Take those away, and Buffalo might as well be a rustier, grittier version of Rochester.

  17. Howard Goldman April 28, 2008 at 8:07 pm #

    The low-traffic amenity we enjoy in Buffalo is worth an easy $20,000.00 per year I think to most people.

    I support that statement this way. If you lived in Atlanta, how much would you have to pay to get back your lost commuting time plus get back the anguish it costs you?

    How much would you be willing to pay to have the Atlanta Police drive you where ever you want to go? In Buffalo, everyone can get around even faster than a police car can get around in those congestion cities.

    We all want lower taxes but I can’t help seeing the silver lining to our unwitting VIP system that we have here. We are charged for first class but as an accidental by-product of getting ripped off in taxes, we actually receive first-class amenities like easy commutes.

    I’ll go with Derek Punaro on this one.

  18. starbuck April 28, 2008 at 8:08 pm #

    but I think in 50 years, Buffalo’s position in the collective consciousness of the nation will be about the same as that of Scranton, Peoria or Topeka. Right now, Buffalo’s stature is hanging on by the laurels of its former status as one of the nations’ largest cities, its silly name, and maybe professional sports. Take those away, and Buffalo might as well be a rustier, grittier version of Rochester.

    Hard to argue with Dan’s prediction. Certainly Buffalo’s long term economic trends indicate movement in that direction with no change currently in sight.

    Some might argue Scranton, Peoria, and Tokepka are bad comparisons because Buffalo is on the Great Lakes. Ok, then substitute Toledo for Peoria, Erie for Scranton, and Duluth for Topeka. Buffalo and Rochester are pretty similar right now.

    Here’s my question: isn’t it condescending toward Rochester and those other cities to describe it as such a humiliating disaster if Buffalo is lumped in with them in 50 years?

  19. starbuck April 28, 2008 at 8:10 pm #

    Howard, what’s your definition of “most people”?

    The low-traffic amenity we enjoy in Buffalo is worth an easy $20,000.00 per year I think to most people.

    Speaking for myself, I’d sure take the $20K extra per year in cash.

  20. Howard Goldman April 28, 2008 at 8:29 pm #

    Starbuck,

    I think we often take our blessings for granted. Thats a good position to be in, so I won’t complain about that.

    Sure, most of us enjoy the process of getting through the day, but the non-scheduled time each day is often less than 1 hour. Now consider what it would be like to suddenly have to commit another 2 hours a day to something that isn’t the least bit fun or productive – sitting in traffic. How much is that best hour of your life worth?

    Imagine what can be done with the 2 hours a day that we have and take for granted. I recently found out that Buffalo’s Leonard Pennario had a brilliant career as America’s greats concert pianist and he only practiced 2 hours a day.

    Starbuck, help me with an experiment. Spend a couple extra hours a day away from your family and stuck in traffic. Do that 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year, for 1 year. Then ask yourself what you would be willing to pay to avoid that hardship.

    Get back to me and let me know what dollar figure you come up with.

  21. starbuck April 28, 2008 at 8:54 pm #

    Howard, I think you’re greatly exaggerating Atlanta’s average commute time. Are you sure you’re not Steve Casey? (Just kidding.)

    That Forbes article says this:

    In Atlanta, 12.7% of commuters spend more than an hour getting to work

    Which means 87.3% of commuters down there spend less than an hour.

    According to the Census bureau, Atlanta’s average commute is 26.5 minutes (rank #14), and Buffalo’s is 20.7 minutes (rank #54).

    See this:
    http://www.census.gov/acs/www/Products/Ranking/2002/R04T160.htm

    So we’re talking an average difference of 5.8 minutes. Times two, that’s under 12 minutes/day. Times 5 weekdays that’s under 1 hour per week. (Not 2 hours per day as you said.)

    That’s under 50 hours per year, so would I (not to mention “nost people”) take an extra $20,000 for that?

  22. starbuck April 28, 2008 at 8:57 pm #

    sorry – “most people”

    And by the way, the Census estimates 2000-2005 bear out that most people who exchange Erie County and the Atlanta area do so in the North-to-South direction rather than the other way around by a factor of 2:1.

    Anyhow, I wasn’t saying you’re wrong to prefer what Buffalo offers. It’s subjective. Just thought when you stretched that to speak for the majority you went too far is all.

  23. Howard Goldman April 28, 2008 at 9:01 pm #

    Starbuck,

    Thanks, I’m glad at least one of us did our homework. I haven’t read the commute ranking in a while.

    Ok. Pick another city closer to the 2 hour round-trip commute time.

    Maybe I should change my screen name to Steve Casey. Thats twice today that I was accused of being his alias. By the way, I always thought that the media was a little fast to demonize that guy.

  24. Chris Smith April 28, 2008 at 9:15 pm #

    “The low-traffic amenity we enjoy in Buffalo is worth an easy $20,000.00 per year I think to most people.

    I support that statement this way. If you lived in Atlanta, how much would you have to pay to get back your lost commuting time plus get back the anguish it costs you? “

    Interestingly enough, if people could find the types of jobs they have in places like Atlanta, they would move here. While the commute time is an advantage, it is clearly outweighed by the lack of solid and repeatable employment, depressed undermarket salaries, and high taxation.

    Wherever you live, you make certain compromises. Our compromise is for comfort, light commutes, and mediocrity in just about every walk of life. In Atlanta, people compromise on commute times in order to make more money and have more options if and when they lose their job.

    I’ve lived in cities with high commute times and higher costs of living and I’ve lived here. At this particular point in my life, the compromises I make to live here outweigh the opportunity to make a lot more money in Chicago.

  25. starbuck April 28, 2008 at 9:38 pm #

    Ok. Pick another city closer to the 2 hour round-trip commute time.

    Steve – I mean Howard –

    Can’t do. In that link I posted, you’ll see according to that list no U.S. metro averaged 2 hrs/day. NYC was worst at 38 min 1-way avg. Only 3 metros (NYC, Chicago, Philly) were over 30 mins 1-way avg. Everywhere else under 30 mins, so Buffalo’s advantage on avg vs. any metro is no better than about 9 mins 1-way, and with comparisons to most U.S. metros the advantage is much less than that – just a few mins/day.

    It adds up, and of course for some it’s longer than avg. But it’s just Caseyesque exaggeration to say numbers like 2 hrs is daily avg elsewhere. And in fact you said “another 2 hours elsewhere” in your $20,000 deal or no deal, which implied over 2 hrs 40 mins (since Buffalo’s 2-way avg is about 42 mins).

    Btw, I saw that someone had called you S.C. earlier so that’s why I joked about that. I wonder if Byron is offended that people don’t even give him credit for twisting those development numbers – people seem to blame (or credit) Casey.

  26. Robert Harding April 28, 2008 at 11:36 pm #

    I must say, I do not think our highway system here in WNY is all that bad. I say this because I just went on vacation to South Carolina. One of their big issues down there is more roads/highways.

    For example, you have a number of different ways to get to Buffalo. In South Carolina, you don’t have many options. Sometimes you are stuck taking one route and it could be backed up for hours.

    So we don’t have it that bad. There are two sides in South Carolina: One side that wants more roads and another side that says they don’t want new roads (or more roads) because it might ruin the landscape.

    As for Toronto, you have to remember that there are 5.5 million in the Toronto metro area. Toronto does have a better public transportation system and they have a lot more traffic there as well.

  27. viking April 29, 2008 at 12:53 am #

    Anyone who would rather spend time in gridlock somewhere else, paying outrageous amounts of revenue for items or services that are reasonable to those who live in this area is mentally impaired. Of course you’d have to be gainfully employed or self sufficient to appreciate this point of view.

    The under employed, unmotivated may blame the area, but chances are that they would have issues with something if they resided in another place also. The pissing and moaning appears to come from those not occupied with focused endeavors, and having to much time to contemplate their own sorry condition.

  28. reflip April 29, 2008 at 8:13 am #

    Perhaps the “lack” of roads in SC is one factor (just one, though) that helps keep taxes down. Maybe it’s not just about the landscape.

    Roads are money pits.

    We keep dangling this “short commute” carrot out there, hoping to entice people to come here (and Rochester). Clearly it isn’t working. Apparently, we are secretly happy it isn’t working, because if we got what we wanted (population growth), our commutes would get screwed up by all those extra people in our way.

  29. Buffalo Hodgepodge April 29, 2008 at 9:34 pm #

    I have never heard anyone use “Lack of traffic” as an offensive tactic to market a region. It’s a very defensive maneuver of trying to convert a weakness (negative growth) into a strength, and a rather weak one at it. Akin to a Hillary Clinton: “My greatest weakness is that I care too much” type of line.

    To steal a line from Geek – anyone who thinks life here is so wonderful because everyone has moved away should rent Roger and Me. The scene at the Flint Country Club would be a good look in the mirror.

Contribute To The Conversation

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: